Tuesday, December 31, 2013

system instrumentation - windows is murkier than linux

See also
http://bigblog.tanbin.com/2013/07/untold-horror-stories-about-microsoft.html
http://bigblog.tanbin.com/2013/12/fwd-pure-language-complexity-vs-tool.html

I recently browsed [[inside windows debugging]]. In the past I also browsed a few *nix system programming books. I'm more afraid of windows than *nix. Windows is more dark and murky; linux is more open and consistent. As a beginner, I feel in linux the challenge is interpreting tool output but on windows it's getting past the installation and security restrictions.

* complication: GUI -- As explained in this blog (http://bigblog.tanbin.com/2013/04/for-administration-prefer-command-line.html), GUI tends to hide a lot of features in layers and compartments. Console tools provide the same amount of power features ...
** if there's a security or registry or other issues that reduce the provided feature set to below 100%, a console tool is more likely to report it to the user but GUI tools often "intelligently" handle it as if it's normal.

MSVS is the primary windows instrumentation tool – very complicated.

* complication: tool installation – Linux tools are not easy to install, but Windows tools tend to be even harder to install.
** registry.
** On any platform GUI tools are, on average, harder to install. Linux tools are less likely GUI.

* complication: security restrictions – for a novice, 1/3 of the problems with windows tools are related to security/permission. Even under an administrator account, there are many security restrictions we may need to painstakingly disable! I don't have any example now. I feel windows was criticized as vulnerable so Microsoft added a lot of security features.
** some security features seem to be controlled by the domain administrators.

* complication: environment factors – If you run the same tool in 2 machines with different results it's often due to environment factors. In Linux, environment variables and some utilities are the only environment factors I know. In windows there seem to be many more places to check.
** registry
** certificates
** control panel items
** secpol.msc

* complication: tool availability – many windows tools are commercial. On windows, I generally find the open-source tools better-quality, but for some tasks there's only one tool – shipped by Microsoft. If I feel it is often crippled. On linux the best tools are invariably open-source.

* complication: undocumented features -- Even if you follow the all documented procedures, still you may hit something unexpected, due to undocumented features. This happens more often on windows then linux.

Note undocumented features affect not only instrumentation tools, but other components of the platform, which affect our debugging.

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/tanbin